Why wellbeing and stress management matters when it comes to staff retention


There is fundamental recognition that wellness supports sustainable engagement and that a healthy employee is a productive employee. 

Why wellbeing and stress management matters when it comes to staff retention

If wellbeing is lacking within an organisation, it is inevitable that the workforce will be negatively impacted, with the business expected to witness higher levels of stress and sickness absence, as well as a reduction in engagement, productivity and morale. This climate creates a perfect breeding ground for high staff turnover – which, in turn, puts a strain on the remaining workforce and affects the reputation of the business as an employer of choice. It is therefore paramount that companies promote and maintain positive wellbeing in the workplace.

As our research has shown, this has not gone unnoticed by the business world. Of the 1,669 employers who participated in Willis Towers Watson’s Staying@Work Survey (2016), every single one said that health improvements are important for productivity in their organisation.

It is reasonable to assume that a healthy, productive workforce will also enjoy higher levels of workplace satisfaction. Those that fall outside this category will be more inclined to look over their shoulder for employment opportunities elsewhere.

Furthermore, employers who took part in Willis Towers Watson’s Global Talent Management and Rewards Study (2016) said that, helping employees manage stress is one of the top five ways to strengthen their retention programmes. So when it comes to reviewing strategies to boost retention rates, it would be prudent for companies to focus their efforts on tackling stress from the very outset.

Stress has been identified as the top health-related issue for companies, cited by 47 per cent of employers surveyed in our Global Benefits Attitudes Survey (GBAS) (2017).  And companies are right to be concerned. 

According to GBAS, 46 per cent of workers who reported having high levels of stress said that they would leave their employer if they could – more than double the figure among workers experiencing low stress (19 per cent).

More than half (54 per cent) of highly stressed respondents aged over 50 also reported that they would retire early if they could, while only a fifth (20 per cent) of employees with low stress were similarly inclined.

Understanding the business impact of stress

With workplace demands, deadlines and commitments, the effects of stress can often be overlooked or underestimated by companies. But organisations cannot afford to dismiss the importance of stress management. Disengagement levels more than double among highly stressed individuals, having an impact on morale, productivity and, ultimately, loyalty to a business and its objectives.

GBAS found that, two fifths (40 per cent) of highly stressed UK workers are disengaged compared with just 17 per cent of employees experiencing little stress. Highly-stressed workers also have twice as many days off sick and twice the level of presenteeism as less affected colleagues – hitting productivity.

This culture of high absence and low engagement, fuelled by prolonged stress, encourages high staff turnover, with workers more likely to regard their working situation as unsustainable.     

Understanding the personal impact of stress

Heightened stress has been shown to be directly linked to poor lifestyle choices among UK workers (GBAS). More than three quarters (77 per cent) of highly-stressed workers admitted to having poor eating habits, compared to 46 per cent of employees experiencing low stress.

Furthermore, fewer than half of highly stressed employees exercise frequently (46 per cent), significantly less than workers with low stress (71 per cent).

Sleep is also hit hard. Only half of highly-stressed employees (50 per cent) enjoy a healthy seven hours’ sleep a night compared with 80 per cent of less stressed colleagues.

It is clear from these findings that prolonged stress has far-reaching implications, which extend into other areas of their lives, including sleep and lifestyle choices.

These findings reinforce the need for companies to focus their attention on stress management. If stress is addressed, companies should see the cycle of negative behaviours broken and an overall improvement in issues pertaining to health and wellbeing.

With a culture of wellbeing established, employees will be healthier, more productive and less likely to look for alternative employment. 

Time to take action

While establishing that a problem exists is a vital first step, a company will ultimately be judged on what action is taken to address the issue. Companies should look adopt a two-prong approach, with a reactive and proactive action plan.

Employers who want to provide staff with support should consider employee assistance programmes (EAPs), which are cost-effective benefits that provide employees with access to 24/7 telephone helplines and trained counsellors. Many employers are training a proportion of staff to be ‘mental health first-aiders’ to provide a first point of contact for those suffering with mental health issues.

There is also an increasing trend for technology-based resilience training to support employees with the challenges of their working lives.

Flexible working arrangements can alleviate stress for some employees and in turn, enhance both wellbeing and productivity.

Employers should not only be reflecting on how they can support their staff in case of stress but also at implementing preventative measures to ensure issues are identified and tackled before they develop. To do this, it is imperative to establish a proper reporting structure for absence related to stress issues. Good data is crucial in identifying areas where problems are most acute and to assist in the development of appropriate solutions.

This approach not only strengthens the wellbeing of the workforce by identifying and anticipating trends but eases the financial implications of stress-related absences, as well as strengthening the employer’s position as an attractive choice within the chosen industry.

The author is Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson.

This article was provided by Willis Towers Watson.

Willis Towers Watson is sponsoring REBA’s Innovation Day, taking place on 22 November at County Hall, London.


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